‘EA Sports College Football 25’ Early Gameplay Review

Last week, UPROXX Sports was lucky enough to be among the media outlets and streamers invited down to EA Sports’ campus in Orlando for an early look at EA Sports College Football 25. We got to learn a lot about their various game modes, with an extensive look at Dynasty, Road to Glory, and more.

We have full writeups on what we learned about each of those modes (linked above), but while we will have to wait until July to get our hands on how those modes function in full, I did get a chance to get on the sticks and dive into about three hours of gameplay. Here, I’ll run through all of the big gameplay additions for 25, along with my thoughts on how the game feels and plays.

Overall, I think fans will be very happy with the initial offering in the resurrection of the franchise, and there are some real differentiators between it and Madden that make it feel like a standalone, unique game. Here, we’ll look at all of the various elements of the game that EA Sports has added, and I’ll offer my thoughts on how those translated once actually on the sticks. Beware, we’re going deep and hitting on everything I possibly can, so there’s a lot in here.


All 134 teams have a unique playbook to themselves, and it’s pretty impressive the depth in which the game goes to give teams their actual style. In the old games, everyone had their own playbook, but it was from a smaller pool of plays that they put together for each team. In this game, there are 10 specific play styles, from Air Raid to the Triple Option (more on option updates below), but within those styles each team has its own distinct look and feel. For example, if you play with Tennessee, you’ll get their wide splits. If you play with Wake Forest, you can run the long mesh.

The stated goal was to give every fan an authentic feeling of playing with their team. While presentation and visuals were important to that, the gameplay also had to be differentiated so each fan base felt like the game truly understood their style. While the playbooks may not be quite as robust as the real ones, they are finely tuned (with the help of PFF) to what each team actually runs. Having run through about 6 different teams in the time I got to play, from small schools to top programs, I can vouch for them succeeding to an impressive degree in their quest.

You will also be able to create a custom playbook and, eventually, you’ll be able to save custom audibles (this is not expected to be ready for launch, but they did promise it was coming). On defense, the zone coverage shells are much more refined than the old games, and you can even craft your own preferred scheme in the custom playbook if you want. They have half field coverages, so you can zone up one half and go man on the other, and you can also disguise coverages (which is important with the pre-snap recognition feature, which we’ll get to later).

Given how much the game is leaning into player skillsets and talent level mattering more than ever, the variability in picking your playbook (or creating your own) to match your talent is going to be key – and vice versa, making sure in a Dynasty you are recruiting talent that fits your needs.

All-22+ Player Differentiation System

The first thing they talked about was their All-22+ system, which ensures that each player on the field plays to their skill level. With such a wide variance in skill levels in the college game, they really wanted to make sure you felt that. A star player will really stand out in this game, while a backup or freshman with a low rating is going to struggle to make a positive impact.

That was noticeable in playing the game, and you have to know your personnel and make sure you’re getting them the ball in the right spots. A star receiver is going to go up and get the ball over defenders, while a lesser receiver is going to struggle to make a catch in traffic. Your quarterback’s various skill ratings will impact your ability to push the ball down the field, throw outside from the far hash, and accurately fit the ball into windows. Again, that was felt when I bounced around from team to team, testing out how the game plays with top-ranked power conference teams as opposed to a small school. You won’t be able to do the same things with those small schools, and it’s going to be incumbent on you, the player, to manage that.

Enhanced Computer AI

One thing that was immediately noticeable once I started playing the game was how much smarter the computer opponent is now. It used to be extremely easy to manipulate the computer, but that will not be the case in this game – especially at higher difficulty levels. I started at All-American, because that’s what I always played at on NCAA, and I was having absolute fits with the defense. The computer now has all the same tools as the user, and it will use them.

The coverages are much smarter, with windows closing much faster in the passing game than they used to, especially against zone coverage. They’re also better at disguising coverages and blitzes, and you’ll have to really be seeing the whole field as a passer. Defenses will adapt to how you’re playing, with real-time coaching that makes adjustments to what they’re running to force you to continually differentiate your play-calling. No longer can you spam the same few plays over and over to exploit the same coverage the defense keeps running. If you show the defense the same play one too many times, it’s likely headed back the other way.

Wear & Tear System

The biggest addition to the game that is College Football specific is the Wear & Tear system. I also think this will be the most controversial part of the game that will require the most tuning from the EA Sports team. The idea comes from a good place and I think as they tune it, it will be a welcome addition to the game. Basically, they wanted to stop gamers from being able to find success spamming the same play over and over by making it so as players take hits, they lose attributes and ratings.

They made clear that this isn’t a fatigue system (like the old NCAA games had). Instead, the way it works is, each body part is broken out and has different player attributes and skill ratings attached to it. As you accumulate hits over the course of the game, you’ll be able to see where a guy has taken damage, and his skill ratings in the attributes tied to that body part will decrease (i.e., throw power and throw accuracy for a QB’s throwing arm). What kinds of hits you take will matter, as not all hits are created equal in the physics-based system. Getting your QB hit by a big defensive tackle will do more damage than a corner on a blitz. A bigger, stronger player will suffer less wear and tear versus a smaller, speedier guy.

This means managing your players’ health will be vital. If you like to run the read option, you better be careful with your QB and RB, because if they get tagged on hits, they’ll lose ratings. This also means hospital balls are a thing, and if you throw your receiver into a big hit, they’re going get lit up and lose some abilities. That means those players want to spam the slant route against a zone, get ready to learn how to diversify your offensive attack or have all your receivers get hurt.

In playing the game, you noticed the Wear & Tear system quickly and it does make you think about spreading the touches out. That makes life even more difficult with a smaller school team, because with the All-22+ system, you might only have one real trusted receiver or running back on the roster, but you can’t lean on him too much or risk him losing attributes. One of the guys I was talking to had to lead a game-winning touchdown drive with his backup quarterback because his starter got hit so much he had lost 47 points off of his rating. That’s going to be an adjustment that you have to manage, and I expect it to be a point of frustration for some and a spot that needs continual tuning from the EA team to make it impactful, but not such a big thing it takes away from the game itself.

New Passing System

While Wear & Tear will require the biggest adjustment to game strategy, when it comes to actual gameplay, the thing players will have to really get used to is the new passing system. It works like the old MVP Baseball 05 throwing system, where you have a meter for each throw and the longer you hold it, the harder the throw. This allows you to layer the ball, from feathery, high-arcing lobs that drop in over the defense to intermediate throws over a linebacker, to a laser that fits in a tight window before a defender can get there. It gives you much more control over passes than the old “tap to lob, hold to rifle” passing system, but it does require you to really put in some time to get used to it.

I threw a lot of interceptions in my first couple games trying to get used to it, for a couple of reasons. One is, if you hold it down too long, you’ll go into the red and throw an inaccurate ball – sometimes right into the chest of an underneath defender. The meter is skill ratings based, so you’ll have to get used to your guy’s ability and how long you can hold it down before you get into the danger area. That means throwing down the field is much more difficult with worse quarterbacks, so you really need to be cognizant of your guy’s skill set when calling plays. Everyone loves running Four Verts, but if you are playing with Georgia State, you will not be able to push it downfield like you want to (at least, until you recruit/develop a QB into a star).

From there, because there’s some delay for throws that you hold the meter down on, you have to really throw with anticipation. I had a couple picks where I saw a guy getting open, tried to rifle it, but in the half second I was trying to hold the meter down, the window closed. The same can happen trying to float the ball out there, as you have to account for where your QB is going to lay it.

That is, again, realistic to how football works, but is an adjustment you have to make in a video game. While frustrating at first, once I got the feel down with someone and started to see the field a little better, I really enjoyed the control it provides. One of the great frustrations of the old game was trying to throw to a receiver who was open in between the linebackers and safeties playing zone, but you’d try to throw it to them and a middle linebacker would inexplicably leap up to intercept it. That can still happen in the new game, but it’s far more likely to be your fault for not throwing the ball with enough touch or throwing late across the middle than it is for every linebacker in the game to seemingly have a 40-inch vertical.

Runnin’ The Dang Ball and Line Play

The new passing system will likely be a bit divisive among players, as the meter won’t be for everybody (even if I think once you get the hang of it, it’ll be a net positive), but what I think people will absolutely love is how much better running the ball is in this game. If you have not played a recent Madden, you likely haven’t seen the large jump in improvement in how the running game works. To start, linemen function like, well, actual linemen, which is to say, independent of each other. In past games they could only really program linemen to block in collectives, meaning the running game was far more boom or bust, with one half of your line typically either succeeding or failing as a group and there would be one hole you could either hit or not.

Now, running the ball is so much smoother and more life-like, and I found it more enjoyable than ever to run the dang ball. For example, if you run outside zone, your linemen are going to block it as they would in real life, and it’ll be up to you to read and react to hit the hole that opens up. That brings more skill into the running game, asking the player to be patient rather than mashing the right trigger and hoping the designed hole opens up. In the college game, this also impacts running the option, where your decision-making has to be on point – with some updates to how it all works.

New Option System

The new option system in the game will require an adjustment period, as they flipped the functionality of the X/A button (PS5/Xbox) on a read option/triple option. They realized that holding X to hand it off was backwards to how options actually work, where the decision is really for the QB to pull it. So, you now have to hit the button to pull the ball back out of the RBs hand, and for anyone that’s got read option muscle memory with the old franchise, that will take some time. You also have more reads to make on the triple option/speed option, with the read, keep, and pitch option that actual QBs have to find. I tried my hand at running the triple with Navy (who, it should be noted, is awful in the game, so that didn’t help) and did pretty terribly. By the second half I had a little bit more of a feel for it, but there were a lot of plays where I didn’t even get to the keep/pitch portion of the triple because my QB would get swallowed up by a defensive tackle soon after the original mesh point. That is to say, fair warning for anyone trying to start a Dynasty with Navy, as it’s tough sledding out there

I will also note that the read option is no longer the cheat code it was in NCAA 14, where you just read the crashing end and if you were right, you typically picked up at minimum 5 yards. The improved AI will start to send help, with defensive backs and linebacker quickly filling gaps, or adjust the defense with play calls that won’t even give you a read at all. That said, the RPO game is now a feature, and that’s all about timing. I didn’t run many RPOs, but you do have to make sure you get the ball out quick if you choose to pull it to avoid an ineligible downfield call.

Homefield Advantage and Stadium Pulse

Homefield advantage is back and they expanded it to be really impactful. Each home stadium is graded out to different levels, so the Big House will have a bigger impact on players than, say, Center Parc Stadium (fka Turner Field) in Atlanta. Freshman will get rattled, communication gets harder, and, yes, the squiggly lines are back but even more aggressive – they start moving all over the place like you’re playing the game on acid. It is a trip, and you’ll struggle to make audibles and hot routes if you don’t have a quarterback with the right mental abilities (more on that in a moment).

To show it off in the presentation, they recreated this moment from a recent Michigan-Penn State game and it was honestly one of the coolest things I’ve seen – and yes, they got “Mo Bamba” licensed in the game.

I think some fans will think they went a bit too far with the Stadium Pulse — and, like Wear & Tear, I’d expect some tuning from EA along the way — but they really wanted to make this game challenging and give it a real feel. If you have a freshman in real life on the road, chances are they are going to get overwhelmed. You better find a way to quiet things down, or else things will get a little scary for your guys.

Player Abilities and Badges

There are no X-Factors in College Football 25 like there are in Madden, but each player will have five physical abilities and three mental abilities that you can build up to get situational boosts. They are archetype limited – which mean you can’t max everything out – and to keep it true to the college game, they are not guarantees to help you out, unlike Madden X-Factors. That means there’s a chance your big play receiver won’t make that catch in traffic in a big moment, even if he has that physical ability.

The mental abilities are particularly interesting and important, because of the aforementioned Homefield Advantage system. Having a quarterback that can handle the road atmosphere will be critical, and it’s going to make players think twice about thrusting a freshman into the starting role early because they have some physical attributes that you like. Confidence and composure will make a difference in how well a player perform.

Coaches will also have abilities, which can calm their team down on the road and give the team situational boosts as well.

Pre-Snap Recognition

Quarterbacks with strong mental abilities will be able to diagnose coverages before the snap, and will tell you what they see in terms of coverage (so, if they see Cover 4, a “4” will appear over the two corners and safeties) and blitzes. However, they won’t be right every time and defenses can disguise coverages to try and confuse a QB by showing one thing and then going into something else at the snap.

Audibles, Hot Routes, Protection Slides, and Custom Stems

The amount of stuff you can do at the line of scrimmage now is pretty incredible. It’s no longer just audibles and hot routes, as you can slide your protection at the line of scrimmage to pick up blitzers and customize routes completely for your receivers with custom stems. If you want a guy to run a 35-yard post for some reason, you can do it. If you want to turn a 5-yard dig into a 10-yard dig, that’s a couple button pushes away. The protection slide is particularly cool, as you can do full slides and half slides, but beware, because if you misdiagnose a blitz and slide to the right, and someone’s actually coming from the left, the computer isn’t going to bail you out and pick that guy up. They will, instead, do what they do in real life and go where they’re told, leaving your QB 1-on-1 with a blitzer. You’ll also have to be cognizant of the play clock, because if you spend too much time customizing at the line of scrimmage, you’ll run into a delay of game.

Defensive Switch Stick

Rather than having to hit O/B to switch players on defense and hope the computer gives you the guy you want, you can now flip the right stick in the direction you want and it will take you to that player. For those that have that right stick dexterity, this will allow you to effectively play with two guys in coverage, as you can quickly flip from one to another and cover a half of the field as the user. I will admit, defense has never been my strong suit in video game football, so it wasn’t super effective for me, but I’m chalking that up to user error and not a lack of functionality.

New Kicking System

College kickers make their arrival in the game in a big way, as the new kicking system has a side-to-side meter (no longer the old right stick or the Madden “L” shape meter) that has red, yellow, and a green zone in the middle. That meter will move faster on kicks from further away, making it more difficult to hit 40 and 50+ yard kicks. Once you hit A/X and land in the zone, you hold it down to fill up the meter on the arrow for your kick power. If you go into the red, you’ll lose distance. Like everything else now, the kicking system is all based on your kicker’s skill ratings and attributes, so the more accurate a kicker, the less a little miss on the first meter is, and the more power they have, the less likely you’ll need to risk going into the red. On the flip side, a bad kicker is going to require you to be absolutely perfect, or else you’re headed for trouble.

Weather Impacts

As they noted in the presentation, “wet footballs matter.” That means if you end up in a rain game or a snow game, ball security will be tricky, you’ll see more drops, footing on defense will be sketchy, and you might end up with some chaos. From a graphics perspective, the animations for rain on the field and the way it kicks up and splashes looked incredible, but it’s a little annoying when the fumbles start happening – which, again, is how it works in real life, and that was their goal.

Uproxx was invited on a hosted trip by EA Sports for reporting on this piece. They did not review or approve this story. You can find out more about our policy on press trips/hostings here.